A Poem for Anita Hill

Eve Ensler, founder of V-Day, asked me to write a piece, as a man, for the conference Sex, Power and Speaking Truth: Anita Hill 20 Years Later that she was co-producing at Hunter College in New York. Hard to believe it was 20 years since the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court hearings. I went back and reflected upon that time, about how badly Ms. Hill had been demonized by many Americans.

My family roots are in South Carolina. Calling someone Miss or Mister in the South is a sign of respect for that person, which is why I say Miss Anita Hill in the poem. As I thought about the piece, I reread many of the accounts about the hearings and all the mean-spirited attacks on Ms. Hill. As a man I wanted to go in a very different direction and say, no, she is a very valuable human being in our nation. She is a hero.

A Poem for Anita Hill
written on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Ms. Hill’s testimony at the Supreme Court hearings of Clarence Thomas in October 1991

miss anita hill
what happens
when a woman
dares to split
her lips and use
the tongue
the universe
and the ancestors
gave her to
fingerpop the flesh
from lies
and expose
the truth
of a manhood
gone mad

miss anita hill
i thank you
as a man
for being
one of my teachers
for having the bottomless bravery
of sojourner truth
susan b. anthony
helen keller
ida b. wells
annie besant
frida kahlo
dorothy height
eleanor roosevelt
simone de beauvoir
fannie lou hamer
ella baker
audre lorde
angela davis
bella abzug
sonia sanchez
gloria steinem
susan taylor
alice walker
bell hooks
eve ensler
patti giggans
shelley serdahely
ani difranco
lynn nottage
debby tucker
april silver
dj kuttin kandi
dj beverly bond
cheyla mccornack
malia lazu
aishah shahidah simmons
laura dawn
pratibha parmar
maisha morales
richelle carey
blanca elizabeth vega
asha bandele
jessica care moore
my grandmother
my mother
my aunties
and all the women
whose names
we will never know
and all the women
who are not yet born


miss anita hill
do you know the
saga of my mother
a young woman
birthed from the scorn
of the old American South
oppressive Carolina clay of Jim Crow
hammered between her toes
with poverty and gloom
bookending the braided hair
of her youth—
first chance she got my ma
borrowed a greyhound
bus ride to freedom
worked odd jobs
like the one where
a rich man, a rich white man,
thought it his civic duty
to erase his skin of
everything except
his robe and his penis
sat on the synthetic sofa with
his legs wide open
so my mother could
see his private parts
they didn’t call it
sexual harassment
back then in the early 1960s
they called it a job
and if you wanted
to keep that job
you had to scotch-tape
the disgust gushing from
your throat and pretend
your womanhood had
not just been used
and discarded like a
soda can with pubic
hair spit-stuck to the rim

miss anita hill
what about my friend
who, just two weeks ago,
did the good deed of
checking on one of
the young people
from her youth program
because the girl’s school
asked her to
little did my friend know
that she was moonwalking
into the den of
a dream deferred named stepfather
a poor man, a poor black man
he didn’t like the questions
my friend was asking
him about the girl
so his manhood threw
kitchen chairs at my friend
like they were nuclear missiles
and when he had abused
those chairs he took the pieces
of the chairs and beat
my friend with those
when the pieces had
disintegrated in his hellish hands
he beat my friend with his fists
slapboxing with jesus
one rapper called it
except stepfather
wasn’t jesus he was the devil—
a devil in redwhiteblue boxing trunks
and my friend an unwilling sparring partner
stepfather jabbed and sucker-punched
my friend with body blows
beat her across the face
as her braces stabbed and
daggered the gums
of her mouth, the blood
bumrushing her brain the
way them busted levees
flooded new orleans in ‘05
miss anita hill, could
you hear her sorrow songs
for him to stop?
could you see the songs
of freedom in her black-and-blue eyes
as she slapboxed
with the devil, every hit
he gave she returned best she could
determined that her funeral
would not be in the rotted and ruined
home of a madman?
but stepfather beat my friend so bad
that the 16-year-old girl
stood upright and frozen
in the track-marks of
her own nightmare
for 3 long years
stepfather had raped
this girl like it was
his divine order to do so
for 3 long years
stepfather had beaten
this girl like it was
his destiny to be a
domestic terrorist
9-1-1 the girl
called 9-1-1
to rescue not only my
friend but herself
she called 9-1-1
as stepfather slashed
and burned
my friend’s clothes from her body
and readied his penis for invasion
the girl called 9-1-1
as my friend’s mind and
bones were body-slammed by trauma
and the greasy, sweat-stained floor
prepared itself for the receipt of her life
and it was right then that
the police came through the door—

miss anita hill
my friend spent a week
at a rape recovery center
she and that 16-year-old girl
I learned all of this
when my friend texted me
one day sharing what happened
she had been hung so high
from a shock tree
that she could not remember if
it happened on a
thursday or friday
but it was one of those
days, she was sure
miss anita hill
the stepfather is in
jail now and that girl
has been freed from her
just the way
you’ve liberated so many
women and girls
from man-made boxes
20 long years ago
simply by having
the audacity to
set sexism on fire
miss anita hill
have you ever thought
of how many women
and girls would not
be free now if
your voice had
not freed them?
you are like
harriet tubman
your life
the underground railroad
that has taken
so many to a place
they did not know exist

and when the
closing chapters of your
life are penciled into the moon
miss anita hill
they will say
that you were a human
being a woman
a black woman
a sister a friend
a leader a mentor
a teacher who
they tried to mock and malign
and crush and defeat
who they
said did not see
what she saw
did not feel what she
felt but who
because of the
convictions in her
lone tree, oklahoma soul
got up anyway
because that is
what the selfless do
they martyr
even their own
sanity their own lives
and in so doing
they know they
birth a child called change
a new birth day
a new v-day
where women and girls
like you, miss anita hill
like my mother
like my grandmother
and my aunts
like my friend
and that 16-year-old girl
and all the women
and girls whose names
we will never know
can say I too can be
free I too can use
my power and my voice
because miss anita hill
said so—

© 2011 Kevin Powell





Kevin Powell is a poet, journalist, civil and human rights activist, public speaker, and the author of 14 books.